Aligning HR and Talent Strategies in an Uncertain World

If your HR or talent department is dysfunctional or in disarray, it’s hard to know where to start making improvements. First, don’t look for a quick fix. Talent strategy and planning are vital to any organization’s future, but the increased speed and continuous nature of organizational change–in a volatile and uncertain world–often puts pressure on HR and talent departments to move too quickly to grapple with new and ongoing challenges.

In reality, most HR and talent departments have limited resources, time and budget. It pays to be highly strategic when deciding where to place priorities to optimize investment, reduce redundancy and ensure alignment and integration. This starts with a clear understanding of what the business as a whole is trying to achieve, and with identifying the role that talent strategy plays in achieving those goals. Ideally, strategic workforce planning is integrated into all business objectives and forecasting, but this is an aspirational goal for many businesses.

BPI group recently talked with 13 global companies across nine industries (from $200 million to $50 billion in revenues) to determine their approaches to the delivery of human capital management services. Most of the companies surveyed indicated a lack of integration and efficiencies in managing change for their organizations, particularly in creating a results-driven talent strategy and prioritizing within it.

HR and Talent’s Value Proposition

A good practice for any HR department seeking improvements is to first establish the value the HR and Talent function brings to the organization. Not surprisingly, when asked “Why does HR exist?”, the majority of study respondents focused on people as the organization’s greatest asset. HR and Talent professionals see themselves as stewards for the employee lifecycle from onboarding to exit, and as ambassadors for the organization’s culture.

In addition, half of the respondents discussed achieving organizational strategy through people strategy, helping align the two and serving as trusted advisors to both the organization and its people.

The Backdrop

HR and Talent departments–along with organizations in general–have become flatter in structure. The traditional six to seven layers of leadership have been reduced to three or four, therefore delayering for speed and simplicity. This means people are wearing more hats, organizations are less siloed, and HR can be more responsive to the changing needs of employees and the changing structure of their businesses.

Similarly, HR can’t be all things to all people, all the time. Change management may be a strategic priority for most organizations, but it is also a capability that is often not well-enough developed within the HR/OD function to deliver this expertise to the business.

Strategize and Prioritize

To get started with a prioritized strategy, consider what’s most important to the business in terms of HR and Talent management and where any weaknesses lie. The companies we interviewed are all actively pursuing integrated, focused strategies across varying business and talent priorities. However, the study revealed gaps between priorities and effectiveness. For example, many of the organizations scored themselves as highly effective in functional areas of HR (such as payroll, benefits, and rewards), while they lacked strength in more strategic areas that are higher priorities, such as agility & efficiency, leadership & talent development, and business alignment.

The key to execution lies in focusing on the main challenge at hand, then moving on to the next.

Here are some priorities that surfaced in our study:

  1. Develop a workforce-agile culture throughout the organization, enabling leaders and employees to anticipate change and adapt to changes in the work environment.
  2. Create and deliver an HR service model that is easy to use, more agile, and integrated across the business. Eighty percent of the companies we surveyed combine high-touch service with self-service (or more automated) solutions that help save time and money.
  3. Focus talent acquisition efforts on critical skills over specific experience or expertise — hiring and deploying talent based on their ability to adapt, learn, perform, and collaborate instead of a unique or narrow expertise.
  4. Align HR more proactively with the business, focusing less on administration and more on helping business partners manage and adapt to change more easily. In one case, a large global beverage company created a Center of Excellence in Agility role that specifically focuses on all processes and expertise needed to manage organizational change.
  5. Integrate technology platforms and HRIS to deliver more real-time data that can be used in talent selection, performance, and development. HR/OD organizations may need to hire from within to maximize the power of data analytics in workforce planning for accurate and on-demand information for organizational change and strategic planning.
  6. Conduct regular reviews of the current and future states (scenario planning) of the marketplace, business, and changing talent landscape to be more proactive in preparing and planning for shifting workforce trends and patterns.

What the Future Holds

It’s clear that workforce planning and predictive analytics will be front and center for the foreseeable future. Most medium- to large-size companies have plans and strategies in place with varying degrees of rigor and success. The challenge is to make those plans continuous, agile, and embedded in the business strategy.

The war for talent is likely to continue as the workforce ages and the nation enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in decades. Organizations must be more proactive in attracting and retaining talent, along with finding ways to reskill current employees to ensure their abilities can meet ever-changing job demands.

In addition, creating a strong, consistent culture is difficult in a gig economy, with the increasing use of contractors and virtual talent that can turn over frequently. This continues to be a challenge, especially for large organizations. Much like marketers who focus on the customer experience, organizations must offer a compelling employee experience as a means of retaining and attracting talent.

The importance of prioritizing and aligning talent strategies cannot be overstated. Increasingly, businesses and their HR teams must become experts in change together to ultimately shape a more agile workforce and culture and to thrive in an uncertain environment.

Michael McGowan
Michael McGowan is managing director of leadership and talent for BPI group. Send questions or comments about this story to